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Selecting Pavers by Characteristics

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Author: Brad Swanson, ASLA, RLA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP

When I first started presenting to architectural firms back in 2005, I always addressed paver characteristics and it seemed to grab the attention of designers. Sometimes I got the impression this section of my presentation was overwhelming because it broke the norms of what a “paver” was. These were different than the 4×8 rectangular paver they’d seen so many times in the suburban sprawl of the late 70’s and 80’s. Or maybe their prior experience using clay pavers with limited size options defaulting usually to a 4×8 shape, limited the expectations as to how a decorative, segmental paver could be used. I could see their eyes light up and could almost predict what they were going to say next. Most of the time it was something like, “I didn’t know you could do that with concrete pavers”. Often, the presentation evaluations would confirm they didn’t know all the products that were available to them. They started to envision using pavers on the ground plane like paint on a canvas. Pavers presented an opportunity for their signature on a project. Pavers added another dimension to their site plan. Sidewalks, plazas, accent areas were no longer just sidewalks, plazas and accent areas. They had meaning. They have a language. They built an identity. 

Let me back up a bit and give a quick and simple explanation. During the design process, often pavers are generically shown in a concept and/or schematic plans with size, color and maybe texture depending on the media. This helps designers indicate their intent or send a message about the space. For example, they may be communicating a hierarchy of importance or how movement should occur. In doing so, this helps the designers frame an idea to the decision makers and provide them reference, a mental picture. Then moving forward through this design process, these ideas are refined and new layers are added. 

Selecting a concrete paver can be challenging if you’re not familiar with our vernacular. It doesn’t need to be that way. We like to make selecting a concrete paver an easy and exciting process. Concrete pavers differ from other paving and paver types. It is a very versatile material. The range of options is pretty incredible and often hard to comprehend in just one meeting.

I explain to designers a three-step process. The selection can occur in any order but I recommend doing it this way:

  1. Finish – surface texture
  2. Shape – paver size
  3. Color – the general desired tone

Those are the starting points. If the designer knows they only want to work with a large rectangle based on their concept/schematic plan, then start there and work on the other options. Or if they only want a dark grey paver, start there and work the options for those colors. Let’s explain all these options or what I like to call “key characteristics”: 

  1. Style:This could mean paver style but it could also relate to the theme of the project. What feel, such as contemporary, rustic, traditional, etc., will the overall project goal visually confirm? The paver’s character could be classic, tumbled, faux, modern, etc. For example, it may not make sense to use tumbled paver with a modern architectural style. Or a modern paver with a historic downtown district.
     
  2. Shape:We can break down the shape into squares, rectangles, geometric and mixed. Shape also represents scale. Are these big squares or small squares? Shape and scale go hand-in-hand for defining a space. Shape provides a grain to the paving. If the overall space is large, a small paver scale may get lost. Conversely, in a small area, a large paver may appear awkward if the paver constantly needs cutting to fit.
     
  3. Size:The size relates directly to the thickness and aspect ratio. Size can come more into play with regards to application type such as vehicular loads. Typical paver thicknesses are 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10cm thick. We even make some that are 15cm thick. Aspect ratio can be viewed as length x width and as length x thickness. With vehicular applications we look at the length x thickness ratio. This is especially critical with plank pavers to reduce the likelihood of breakage.
     
  4. Texture:We now have eight different architectural paver finishes; Senzo, Umbriano, Series, Granito, Revela, Il Campo, Premier and the classic standard finish. And this doesn’t include some our specialty Elegance® products which use our Reala™ Technology cast surface. The last time I counted, we had well over 50 shapes and many of those finishes could be applied. That’s over 400 options. Yeah! It’s crazy. There are exponential product offerings with every new surface texture and/or shape we introduce. But hold on young grasshopper. It’s not that easy. Before you go crazy, there are some rules and you should work through the selection process with your Unilock Representative.
     
  5. Color:This is usually dependent and tied to the texture. They are mostly exclusive to the texture. So the Umbriano® Summer Wheat color can’t be made as a Series™ exposed aggregate surface. Generally speaking though, lighter colors expand and darker colors contract. Choosing a color can also be playful or directive. Contrasting colors provide meaning that may otherwise not be defined by the other characteristics. Currently we have over 100 different stock colors in our paver product lines.
  6. Pattern/Laying Pattern:Even though the laying pattern isn’t part of the paver itself, the laying pattern adds another consideration to the message. For example, simple, single shape, running bond or stack bond patterns can be considered reassuring because of the long joint lines creating guidance. Multi-shape laying patterns are much more flexible and convey a more casual message such as a place to stop and rest or hangout. 

Once designers are introduced to the full range of key characteristics, they began to understand the Unilock vernacular. What I mean by that is being able to understand the layers of key considerations. Sometimes, it can become confusing. Other times, their vision is confirmed and rewarded. You can see this repeatedly as you flip through the projects in our commercial catalog or website. Unique project after unique project, full of different ideas and design intents. Let us know how we can inspire you.